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Jim Hansen’s Early Years Laid Groundwork for Giving Today

Local business leader lives out lessons of hard work, generosity and volunteerism

Jim Hansen, Foundation donor
Jim Hansen, Foundation donor

We recently asked Jim Hansen about his inspirations and aspirations for giving. Born on the East Side of Saint Paul, Jim is a successful Twin Cities entrepreneur and president of Hill-Murray School who has a donor advised fund with the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

What is your earliest memory of giving?

My mother was a first-generation Italian immigrant. My dad got his GED from the old Mechanic Arts high school here in Saint Paul and had his own small business.

As a young boy, my parents sat down twice a month. My mother would lay out all the bills, and my father would write the checks. We had a good upbringing, but there wasn’t a lot of extra to go around. Despite that, my mother sent a check to a school on an American Indian reservation in North Dakota every month. When I asked about it later, she said that as an immigrant she thought it was important to help others in need.

When I wanted a bike badly, my father told me that I could work for one. So I went out and enlisted two neighbor kids to cut grass with me. My dad told me he would give me a dollar for every dollar I saved, but that the extra contribution would go towards a bike for Joe, the young son of one of his employees who could not afford a bike. The idea was that if I worked hard, volunteered and saved money, I could buy myself a bike and he would buy Joe a bike.

You can imagine how that sets a tenor around education, volunteerism and the importance of work.

Why do you give today?

Although we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, I realize today that I was given a lot of advantages. For one, I grew up with a mother and father. Dad worked. Mom stayed home, so there was someone to watch us all the time. Every week, my mom took us to the library. We played at the playground with other kids. My mom’s expectation was that we go to college, and not just college, but graduate school. She made us think about what profession we would hold.

I recognize that I have been successful because my parents cared about learning and supported and encouraged me. I was given a fair chance to succeed or fail.

When I acquired my own wealth, I wanted to give back. I primarily give to education, providing four full-ride scholarships at the University of Minnesota for first generation students. I also give to environmental causes and to housing organizations and food shelves to help reduce the instability of poverty.

Wherever possible, I tie my gifts to volunteering, so I have a distinct feel for the organization’s governance, efficiency and the effectiveness for how my gift is used.

What made you choose to carry out your philanthropic journey with the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation?

The Foundation offers reliable, efficient, effective management of funds. It also offers a place where people who are philanthropically oriented can have a community and learn from each other. I love reading some of the topics covered in your reports.

I have gone to events where your staff provide additional insights into the needs of the community. The Foundation plays an important role as a community builder and a convener.

Imagine you could create the perfect world, what would that look like?

Each child is born being known, loved and respected for their unique gifts.

Each of those children is given equal support and opportunities in their journey to adulthood. They grow up in a family that cares about education and that really has the best interest of that child at heart. That is the foundation of wealth – however you define it individually.

Those young people form communities. They build and maintain communities focused on the common good.

The communities form nations that are peaceful, collaborative and participative members of a global community.

Those nations are dedicated to making sure that each child, young adult, community and nation knows, loves and respects each individual for the gifts they are given. They provide the resources for each person to receive the support they need and to build societies focused on the common good.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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